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A soap opera editor-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-writer,Janaki Lenin is a self-proclaimed idealist by day, and anarchist by night. A wildlife enthusiast with years of experience in conservation under her belt, Lenin strives to bring the wild to the masses with fun and lively stories. She was a columnist for Firstpost, The Hindu and The Wire, and has two collections of essays from her My Husband and Other Animals column.
How has the lockdown been treating you?
My family and I are lucky to live in the middle of nowhere, on a farm adjoining a forest. My regular way of life is one of self-quarantine. So the lockdown wasn’t radically different although it required a few adjustments. The only fear was that my elderly father shouldn’t come down with any major medical issues that required seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital. But on the plus side, the lack of traffic noise was wonderful, and we hear the dawn chorus of birdsong in full stereophonic glory.
What is your new book all about?
Every Creature Has A Story is about some of the most amazing, bizarre, and charming things that animals do, whether it be navigating by smell, showing compassion to others, or pretending to be dead rather than have sex. We’ve seen viral videos of the antics of dogs and cats splashed all over the internet. But members of entire species out in the wild are doing crazy stuff that deserves to be in the spotlight, and I hope the book will bring these stories to life.
You’re privy to a lot of weird animal facts. Your Top 3?
This is a tough one but I'll do my best (not in any specific order):
1. Land snails use their shells to kill parasites.
2. Darwin’s bark spiders practice oral sex.
3. Palm cockatoos use tools to make music.
How did you come to be a nature writer? What draws you to it?
I was always enamoured by nature and animal life and meeting my husband, Rom Whitaker, opened up this wonderful world. I remember on my first walks in the wild, he pointed to spittlebugs, tadpoles, nettles, fireflies, and I became absorbed in the stories of how they live and survive. I felt like I had opened a secret door that led to a magical world of Nature, not Narnia. Since then I’ve been besotted with bugs and birds, snakes and snails, and leeches and lions. I used to be a filmmaker and when I became unhappy doing that, I turned to writing. And here I am.
Writers who inspire you?
Franklin Russell (Watchers at the Pond), Diane Ackerman (The Moon by Whale Light), Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country), E.H. Aitken (Zoo in the Garden and The Tribes On My Frontier) to name a few.
Will the COVID-19 pandemic teach us to be more respectful and considerate towards the animal kingdom?
Many have already commented that the pandemic is the powerful destructive face of nature showing what happens when humans aren’t considerate to the animal kingdom. But it also created the opportunity for folks stuck in city apartments to take solace in little creatures such as spiders, ants, and bees. If this doesn’t make people wake up to the realities of our relationship with other lifeforms, I don’t know what will.
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